Bold Place: Meet Millie Toyin Olateju

Secondly in our Bold Place collection. We spoke to Millie about her work and art life balance.

With our Bold Place features well and truly underway, it was about time to meet Cherie’s fellow artists and introduce you to Millie Toyin Olateju , a female abstract Painter who has a studio space at Bold Place.

Millie’s art is eclectic yet sophisticated that has the ability to brighten up any space. Her work suits minimal or maximal spaces and shines in any room of the house. Millie has shared on her Instagram (tagged at the bottom) photographs of her pieces in various homes around the world. The beauty and magic of Millie’s art has travelled far and wide and we are more than excited to see her work in more galleries globally.

Millie alongside Cherie is one of the artists who has her work exhibited at the Refractive Pool exhibit at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Millie talks to us very openly below about how she juggles working part time along with creating her beautiful paintings when and where she can.

Over to Millie to hear about her artistic journey…

What made you get into art and wanting to make that into your career?

It never really felt like a conscious decision but more of a need. I’ve always made things ever since I was a kid, always drew or painted. And then naturally because of this fell into doing art at GCSE, art at A Level, art at college, and art at university. It’s one of the only things I really enjoy and I’ve always been good at it. So it just made sense. I also just can’t see myself doing anything else. Even if I wasn’t a practising artist and went down a more “stable” route, I would still want art to be part of my job. I would love to be an art therapist. That would be a dream. Anything else just feels like I’m selling my soul a little bit to be honest. I’ve always been extremely passionate about making art and looking at it and being involved with it. It just fascinates me and excites me. So a career in it makes sense. Because if I have to be part of the rat race, I want it to be something I can enjoy at least.

 Your work is so distinctive and bold, was it an easy decision for you to go down the abstract painted route? 

Thanks! Abstract art for me means complete freedom to play and explore, because it doesn’t have to look like anything. I had quite a traditional outlook on art growing up – I used to do a lot of portraiture as a kid and still life. And then it just got boring to me,  because I didn’t find it challenging anymore, and it was stressful because in my head I needed it to be perfect. I wanted my work to look exactly like the person or the image or whatever I was using as reference. Like a photograph! And then as I got older I just kind of realised there’s no fun in that. Life’s stressful enough so I didn’t want making art to be stressful as well. I made the jump to abstract painting in university – at the time I was making conceptual work, about being mixed race, because I was in an academic setting, and it felt like my work had to mean something. I was miserable making this kind of work. Then one day I came across the work of Fiona Rae, one of my favourite painters, and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I lost the passion I had for art a little bit in my first year of uni because of the type of work I was surrounding myself with – and then Fiona Rae’s work brought that passion back.

So, I started like a personal quest to make abstract work and haven’t looked back since. That was about six years ago. The possibilities are endless and I’m so curious about what could happen with abstract painting, so it keeps me hooked. With work that relates to real life its very much predictable to me personally and there’s not as much mystery to what you’re doing or how things could go. I do like when the two are merged though and although I don’t like making representational art, I still very much enjoy looking at it. 

You are part of the exhibition for Refractive Pool, how exciting is it for you to be part of an exhibition in Liverpool’s most famous gallery, the Walker Art Gallery?

It’s beyond exciting! As someone who is from Liverpool, and has always had a strong interest in art, I spent a lot of time in the Walker growing up. I would walk through the John Moore’s Painting Prize exhibition and be mesmerized, now I have work up alongside that the winners exhibition with Refractive Pool, and there’s a Fiona Rae painting up just in the other room from where mine is. It’s a bit surreal to be honest. If you would have told me as a kid, I would one day have a piece up in the Walker I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s like a bit of a pipe dream. So, I don’t think it’s sunk in for me really. Little me would be proud!

What would be your biggest tip for someone who is thinking of making being an artist a full time career? 

You must be willing to struggle, to be honest. If you’re looking for a stable, straight forward, certain career path, don’t do art. There must be a real element of passion there to keep you going. As I said before, for me it honestly didn’t really feel like a choice. It’s more of a need. Making stuff stops me from going mad and gives me a sense of purpose. In a perfect world I would just make art and paint all the time. It’s just a bonus if I get paid for it. Also, I’m not full time! A lot of us aren’t – it’s very rare that an artist gets to have a full-time practise. Unless you’re an illustrator, or designer. But fine art is very different, especially if you work in say performance or something that can’t be monetized like painting. And even then, the subject matter or your work greatly impacts if you can make money easily from it.

My work is very ambiguous so I guess it’s a bit easier for me to sell stuff, but it’s still subjective and some people will love it, some people will hate it. Most artists I know have another job to make sure they can pay their bills, including me. I work in hospitality to make sure my rent gets paid, both my studio rent and my home rent. You must be willing to sacrifice a lot. My spare money goes on my studio rent and materials, whereas other’s may go on clothes and nice experiences. If you’re not willing to miss out and invest in it, then it’s not for you. 

You have a space at Bold Place, what is your favourite thing about being a female artist at Bold Place? 

The space, and the people I share the space with! It’s right in the middle of the city, so really good location, right next to the bombed-out church so I have a lovely view of that from my window. I always describe Bold Place as like a little house, because it’s set up that way really. It’s bright and airy, and has a homey, safe feeling to it. My environment really impacts how I work and if I can work at all, so being in a bright and breezy space does me wonders. It’s cold though! As most studios are haha. And all the other studio members are so so lovely, it’s nice being in a little community where you can chat and have a laugh while you get on with stuff. 

What is next for you as an artist and would you recommend a space at Bold Place for other creatives? 

Honestly just continuing to paint and make work and seeing what happens with my practise. I’m looking forward to watching my work evolve over time. There’s so many paintings still to be made! I have a few commissions coming up and I’m also wanting to start releasing limited edition Fine Art Giclee prints of my paintings on paper, in limited runs of maybe 10, 15, or 20 – and sell them on my website, to help me fund my work, to be able to keep making stuff. I would definitely recommend Bold Place to other creatives, it’s a gorgeous little building with gorgeous people in it! 

Follow Millie on her Instagram here

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